Since its conception, the Proviso Math and Science Academy, a new magnet school which will open its doors in the fall, has been looking for a few good men to lead the school. One to take over the academic responsibilities, the other to take over facilities and student affairs.
They found the first of these in Richard Bryant, Jr., director of teaching and learning for the academy. At the end of January, they found the second half of their dream team in Melvin Berry, now director of student affairs and building facilities.
“This is a new concept for the district,” Berry said of the division of duties between himself and Bryant. “They wanted to make sure they divided the duties. Both Rick and I are vets and we can do each other’s jobs so we’ll work well as a team.”
Typically, a principal at a school will handle both duties, but at the new Proviso Academy, the division of labor promises to lighten the load and engender an environment in which both men can do their jobs and still have time left to interact with the students and become
more involved in their lives.
“We both have been in a position [as principals] where we have had to do everything and we know the pitfalls,” Berry said.
The new academy, which is almost complete, is a five story high-rise building with brand new state-of-the-art science laboratories and room for cooperative learning and teaching.
“It is a school I would love to send my child to,” Berry said.
Berry will be tasked with ensuring that all the systems and facilities at the academy create an environment in which teaching and learning is encouraged.
He views his mission as “becoming an expert in the quality of life of the students.”
Part of this involves maintaining the infrastructure and classroom sizes.
The classrooms, he pointed out, are 30 feet by 30 feet, which allows teachers to move around and for students to maintain long-term experiments in the classes.
Another aspect of his mission, Berry said, is to ensure that evacuation procedures and plans are up to date.
To do this Berry plans to reach out to the community and speak with local fire and police agencies, safety experts and local businesses to develop a fool-proof plan.
His mission, however, is not limited to buildings and safety codes. It also involves seeking out community partners that can enhance the learning experience in the school.
“We typically have clubs, but at this school we’ll have those same things but maybe now we’ll have a computer club partnered with a computer company,” Berry said.
Another quality of life aspect Berry hopes to focus on is the introduction of real world applications within the school.
For this, he hopes to seek out and engage universities and businesses as partners.
Berry’s career has mimicked his daughter’s educational path.
He began teaching at the elementary level as a middle school teacher in Evanston.
From there, he went on to take positions as principal in Country Club Hills, Niles, and South Holland. In 2004, he took a position as lead dean of students at Proviso East High School before assuming his current role.
He earned his bachelor in public relations from Southern Illinois and a Masters in teaching and reading from the National College of Education in Evanston.
Berry has worked as a union representative at various levels, but said he would not be a teacher today without his wife’s direction.
“She started teaching before me,” Berry said. “I worked for a short time in business and we were very successful.”
The company, though successful, Berry said, put him in a position in which he had to help phase out several positions. They were positions Berry knew were the reason the company was having success.
“I had to look at these people and know that they were going to lose their jobs and it had nothing to do with their success,” he said.
“At that point I said, I don’t like this and went back to school,” Berry said.
At this crucial junction in his life, it was his wife who came to Berry’s side and helped point him towards a career he has found both satisfying and encouraging.
“I have worked for 23 years and never worked a day in my life,” Berry said of his passion for his job.